The parent rap
How New Yorkers deal with the horrors of Mom and Dad.
Thu Mar 27 2008
My father is my bandmate
David Lloyd, 25
To be honest, I can’t remember exactly how it happened. My band, Social Hero, needed harmonies and, because he’s my dad, our voices blended really well. He started playing with us about eight years ago.
He’s had his own band called Stories, a million-selling record in 1973, and a discography of vocal work in bands ranging from Billy Joel to Foreigner and Yes. He’s pretty serious; I’m kind of in awe of his talent.
When I was little, he was doing a lot of session work and was usually in the studio at night. So we’d hang out all day in the park playing baseball, and then when I started school, he was the one who picked me up—I never had a babysitter. And now we’re tightly involved musically and artistically, and in terms of the business of organizing the band.
I still live at home on the Upper West Side, unfortunately. It didn’t bother me for a while, but it’s starting to be a drag because of our arguments. In any relationship where you’re close with somebody, it’s easy to get upset really quickly. On top of that, my dad and I are both really loud, so the neighbors have heard us before. [Laughs] Now that I’m single, it can definitely be…you’re not going out on dates with girls and telling them that you live at home. I almost didn’t want to tell you about it. [Laughs] But it has really allowed me to develop the band.
What’s funny is that through seventh grade, I used to be a little freaked out. My dad was this crazy, long-haired rock & roll guy, and everyone else’s were doctors and lawyers, clean-cut, wearing suits and ties. But when I got older, I realized I was way off, and having a dad who’s low-key and artistic and fun to hang out with was actually a good thing.
We’re definitely able to talk about things that might not be comfortable for other parents and friends of mine. I feel like in a regular parent-child relationship there are topics that are taboo, and that doesn’t exist with us. Another difference is that I think my dad respects my outlook and opinion on things, probably with higher regard than in other people’s families. Some people have a dad who is always right, and whose word is final—and that’s the way I am with my dad, which I guess is kind of a role reversal. He’s my dad, my best friend, my brother, my business partner and my bandmate.
—As told to Billie Cohen
Listen to David and his dad rock out with Social Hero
My parents are Chinese immigrants
Lala Wu, 22
My parents met in China in the midst of political turmoil. My father was in med school and got the opportunity to come here as a student, so he moved to Seattle in 1980. They waited for each other for three years, exchanging letters—I think my mom sent a lock of her hair or something. [Laughs] Finally, my mom came to join him.
While I was growing up, they were not stereotypically strict Asian parents, but they were more strict than my mostly white friends’ parents. My friends would tell me that I was my own person and that I should do my own thing, but that’s a huge cultural disconnect: In Chinese culture, it’s much more about your responsibility to the family than it is about what you want for yourself. The idea is that your obligation to your family should be built into your idea of contentedness and happiness. But it was hard to pin down what was “right” and “wrong.” You know, like, about mundane things. For instance, we kept our pots and pans in the oven because Chinese people don’t really bake. No one does that! I’ve accidentally preheated many a pot and pan in my life.
My parents play a large part in my decision-making process about everything. Even when it comes to relationships: If I were really into somebody but my parents didn’t like him, it would be over. They’ve also helped me keep the crazy pressures of living in New York in perspective. I feel like I’m stereotyping myself, but it’s Confucian: Listen to your elders, they know what they’re talking about. You’ll be more successful and don’t have to make the mistakes other people are making if you can just listen to your parents’ advice. My mother has pushed that strategy on me since the beginning. I recently realized that it was nearly impossible for me to make a major decision without a lot of anxiety about what my mother would want. I realized how insane that was and forced myself to trust my own judgment more. It’s hard, though.
There’s also an aspect of like, Wow, you sacrificed everything for us. You left what you knew, you came here with nothing and you built this life so that your two kids could be successful. So who am I to say that I don’t want to do what you think is best for me?
—As told to Kate Lowenstein
My dad cheated on my mom
Jane Henders, 21
I grew up on the Upper East Side in the ideal family of four. My father was the teddy bear—affectionate, charming and kind—whom we could go to for a hug. Mom was the organizer and made sure my sister and I did all our schoolwork. I always thought my father was unhappy in the marriage and felt neglected. When I’d fight with my mom about her perfectionist attitude, I thought, I have to stay with her because she’s my mom, but he’s married to her and half the country is getting divorced every day. I didn’t understand why he was still with her. From an outsider’s perspective, we lived a charmed life. We were always having family dinners, my sister and I were driven and had lots of social graces, and all arguments happened behind closed doors. Everything was neatly tied up.
Three years ago, the four of us were on vacation. We were sitting around having breakfast in this gorgeous resort. My dad was in the kitchen and his BlackBerry started vibrating. I called to him to tell him but he didn’t hear me. So I picked it up and hit the side of it to make it stop vibrating, and it opened an e-mail. It was from a woman. It was completely…it wasn’t innuendos, it was just blatantly sexual. It was someone I’d met before—I recognized her name. The e-mail was really gross: It was clear that it wasn’t something I could brush off. I locked myself in the bathroom and listened to “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” like, five times and cried on the bathroom floor for a while. The rest of the vacation—and the next several months—felt really awkward. I tried to read his e-mail when he left his BlackBerry unattended. I started to feel like I was stalking him.
I was leaving for college in nine months and was hoping it would work itself out or he would tell my mom. At that point I had a lot of sympathy for him in his marriage and sort of understood why he’d have an affair. It made sense to me and I felt like what was meant to happen would happen. I didn’t want to be the intermediary. It made being home a weird experience. That fall they dropped me off at school, and apparently on the drive home was the first time that my dad told my mom he was unhappy.
Thanksgiving that year at my aunt’s was the most awkward, awful thing. My parents sat at opposite ends of the big family table. I was going in and out of the bathroom crying. When we got home afterward, my dad made a speech about how it was time for him to be happy and how he’d done so much for all of us. It was really a B.S. speech. Until he opened his mouth about the situation, I had so much compassion for him. But when I heard what he had to say about why he was leaving, I was like, This is so obviously a midlife crisis. He had really convinced himself that he was the victim in this situation, and that this was just something between my parents and wouldn’t affect my sister and me. “Family is the most important thing” had always been his mantra. But he chose himself over it.
In the months that followed, my mom would tell me about everything going on between them. I was really conflicted—is that good parenting? Am I old enough to be hearing all this? Should there be more boundaries? I want to be a friend to my mom, but I don’t want to feel too burdened. I went back and forth between feeling like I knew too much and feeling kept in the dark. She was always so stable and rational; I’d only seen her cry twice, and suddenly she was chain-smoking, honest about what she was feeling whenever she was feeling it and weepier—more real. Ironically, I think that it was a side my dad would have loved to have seen.
It was difficult to see my dad. Every time we had dinner it was a heavy conversation that ended in both of us crying. Those were not dinners I looked forward to. When I was younger he was a rock, someone who could offer consolation. Now I see him as an insecure, confused man. It’s hard for me to look to him for any sense of security. He’s a really likable guy—our senses of humor are compatible; we can have silly banter and enjoy each other’s company and listen to music together. But I don’t feel that same sense of unconditional love toward him anymore. I will always love him—he’s my father—but I see him as a hypocrite now.
—As told to Kate Lowenstein
I’m estranged from my mother
Marcy Williams, 37
I don’t think my mom and I ever had a healthy or loving relationship—it was destructive more than anything else, bordering on emotional abuse. After college, I just effectively didn’t go back home. I told her I was moving out, and then I lied about law school so she wouldn’t know where I was. I cut myself off so that I could define myself, instead of seeing myself as she saw me.
She never believed in me the way you expect parents to believe in their children. She would say things that were hurtful—and didn’t care that they hurt. I remember her telling me that no one was going to want to date me. And she never noticed my accomplishments. She once brought me along on a date, like I was the smart daughter, something shiny to show off. She pulled me aside beforehand and said, “I told him you got a such-and-such on the SATs, so play along.” It was my actual SAT score—I had certainly told her, and I had gotten National Merit Scholarship Finalist status for it—but it hadn’t stuck in her head. That was the kind of thing that made me think, Okay, nothing is going to make this woman proud of you, she is just going to write you off.
When we had fights, I could leave in the middle of the night and go to a pay phone on the highway to talk to someone, and she wouldn’t even check for me until the next morning. There was a lack of concern for my welfare. There was just no maternal protectiveness; I felt like this nonentity. And even though I was a quiet honors kid outside the house, inside I was somehow this black sheep; I was led to feel terrible about myself. I had a very firm sense—and I still do—that if someone really cares about you, they won’t not care when they see that they’re hurting you. I would point things out that she did that hurt me and she wouldn’t care. You could be in tears in front of her and she’d still be cold.
Your parents are the ones who are supposed to love you no matter what, and I had one that just didn’t love me. That was a constant blow to my self-esteem; I needed to get away and create my own image of myself to rebound from that.
I think it’s been a hardship in relationships and work, the lack of a family foundation. Battling your self-esteem is not a plus in any of those arenas. [Laughs] But the fact that I did not have family to lean on made me very determined to be independent—and very capable of being independent, the way New Yorkers need to be.
—As told to Billie Cohen
My parents are Muslim and I’m gay
Omar Hosseini, 25
I had no intention of coming out to my mother. I was 21. I came home one night at 3am and found her sitting up, waiting. I felt guilty, thinking she was sleepless worrying about my safety. Then she said, “Are you gay? You can’t be Muslim and be gay.” She had found a love letter from an ex-boyfriend in my things, and it was a bit grandiose—declarations of love and all that. She cried, mourned the grandchildren she wouldn’t have, threatened to tell my father. I can’t bear this alone, she said. Part of me started to prepare myself for not knowing them. I was concerned because they were paying for college, and so I started preparing for the worst.
It was always business between my parents; my sisters and I were the business. My father, an anesthesiologist from Pakistan, has a sort of Jack Kerouac–slash–Leonard Cohen vibe about him. He isn’t religious; he reminisces about his time following the Beatles, his desire for a butterfly tattoo on his hand and his interest in Islamist mysticism. He played Rumi poetry on tape—which I tried to like during my Tori Amos phase—during our drives to Muslim Sunday school. But it never stuck.
My mother never engaged this side of him. It was like, “Your father does what he does.” She is an Afghan refugee and is more firmly grounded in traditional Islam. She decorated my room by putting Islamic icons and images among my Trent Reznor and L7 posters. She made me keep one wall completely empty for prayer. In a larger sense, she was trying to preserve a space in my life that was distinctly Muslim. So she planned a trip for us to Mecca shortly after she found out about my sexuality; she hoped I’d be transformed. She told me that once you go to Mecca you can’t turn your back on God; radical alteration comes with making the pilgrimage. I jumped at the chance to go, but I was actually a little worried: What if I did change? What would happen to me there? I had only come out a year prior and I was still a little fresh.
Mecca was life-changing. It was amazing to stand with 3 million other Muslims and, as a gay man, say to myself, “Yes, I’m here too. I belong.” Though my mother and I bonded during our trip, I feel like, in a way, I’m back in the closet. I know she would still disown me if I settled down with a man or made my being gay impossible for her to ignore. My sister is also queer. But she never saw a point to coming out. And that’s the way I felt. I had no desire for my mother to be involved in my life as a sexual being, even if I were straight. More and more Muslim people are caught in a conflict with an American or European sexual politic regarding dating and marriage. So these conversations are becoming more commonplace. But the issue of gayness is more difficult to deal with. It’s not really on my mother’s radar. So for now I try to find ways to bring her closer: I’m learning Farsi, and my mother and I practice over the phone every night.
—As told to Amanda Krupman
My mom is queer—and so am I
Madeleine Lieberman, 25
My mom came out to me when I was ten. It was totally unexpected—she’d been married to two guys previously. I walked in and found her in bed with a woman in our Upper East Side apartment. She sat me down with her lover a couple of days later and said, “I thought you knew.” I was like, “No, I didn’t. I thought you were just best friends.”
I already knew I was gay and have since, like, age five, but I was trying to be as straight as possible. I had a lot of anger toward my mother because of her previous relationship with a guy. It was a bad relationship and we both put up with a lot from him. I felt angry that we’d gone through all of that for what felt like no reason.
At that time I was growing up with my mom, her partner and, like, 40 gay guys. They all called me the “token straight child.”
So I knew I was gay before my mom came out, but I tried to hide it. Before I even came out people would say, “Your mom’s gay. Doesn’t that mean you’re going to be gay?” I knew that was going to be other people’s reactions when I came out, that it was somehow my mom’s fault that I turned out gay. And that actually was people’s response quite often: “You’re gay ’cause your mom is.”
I came out to my mom when I was 13. I didn’t have the courage to tell her to her face that I was a lesbian. I wrote her a letter, threw it on her pillow and ran out of the house. I told her that I didn’t know what I was, but I knew I wasn’t straight. My mom and her partner told me it was fine that I wasn’t straight, but that I couldn’t date until I turned 16. A couple of other adults knew, but no one my age. I guess it was the opposite of most kids—I came out to my parents and their friends before coming out to my own friends at school.
At 17 I started dating an older girl whom my mom didn’t like. The girlfriend taught me to just say no to my mom. One night I got into a fight with my mom about school, and I left at 11 that night and moved in with the girlfriend, never to move back home. My mom and I didn’t have a good relationship after that for some years, until more recently.
Right now, it’s really good. We both know we have separate lives—I think that was very important to establish. We used to be very codependent. We’ll have conversations about girls and relationships. We have a much stronger relationship, and it’s based on the fact that we recognize one another as human beings now.
—As told to Allison Steinberg
My father and I smoke pot together
Hope Peters, 25
My father and I have always been close. As a child, I was told to steer clear of his “poison plants,” which were drying all over the house. In actuality, they were pot plants that my dad used to grow in our tiny Queens backyard. I had no idea at age nine or ten.
I remember connecting the dots when I started high school at 14; I saw some kids smoking pot outside my school. I thought, That smells like my house. I never said anything to him, though. A year later I started smoking pot with my friends.
My father became aware of my smoking habits when I was a junior in high school, though it was a silent knowledge. We would steal pinches and roach clips from each other, but we never spoke about it. My friends would come over and say, “Hey, it reeks in here and we haven’t even smoked yet!”
My mother found a bowl resting on top of my book bag one day when I was 17 and said, “I really wish you wouldn’t travel with that.” She doesn’t smoke but knew that both my father and I did separately. My father had a Ph.D., a good job, and was always responsible with the mortgage and the family, and I was maintaining a full scholarship, supporting myself and living on my own—how could she disapprove? I kind of think she just feels she needs to play parent.
I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but it was when I was in college that my father and I started to talk more freely about our shared love of the ganja and started smoking together when I came home to visit—behind my mother’s back. Then one night I was home and my parents had some friends over. I was in the backyard with my father and four of his friends passing around a joint when my mother poked her head out of the back door and saw. That was her first knowledge of the father-daughter hobby. She tsked really loudly and left in a huff. Now we’re more open about it—we don’t try to hide our smoking from her. I guess at this point she’s just accepted it. She’s the stoic soccer mom.
My exes have brought my father bags of pot as gifts, my friends have smoked with my father, and we even shared a dealer for a short while.
When we smoke, we get philosophical. We talk about politics and the universe. I think we are closer for it. It’s something we do together that we don’t do with any other family members. I’ve always been Daddy’s little girl. I don’t think it makes him any less of a father figure, though: We’ll smoke a joint together and five minutes later he’ll be yelling at me to get my elbows off the dinner table.
—As told to Kate Lowenstein